Remember the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game? About seven or eight months ago I had confirmation that I had joined the ranks of the Truly Jeremy-Obsessed when I found myself playing Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam. But maybe you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. I’ll explain/remind you: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a kind of trivia game that started in 1994 when three college students were watching Footloose (1984). The idea was that you could link anyone in “Hollywood” to Kevin Bacon in six degrees or less because it seemed as though the actor had worked on a movie with everyone—or had worked with someone who had worked with everyone.
The game was based on the “six degrees of separation” idea that you can connect any two people on the planet through five or fewer acquaintances using their relationships to one another (family, friends, neighbors, classmates, work colleagues, etc). Each relationship is a “degree.” In Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon the relationship is simply that the two people appeared together in a movie.
The game was extremely popular in the ‘90s and the concept has remained a fixture in pop culture. There are a book, a board game, and several web sites devoted to “6D of KB.” Bacon himself spoofed the idea in a Visa commercial several years ago. A recent article about a favorite actress of mine, Laura Linney, referred to the game as a measure of how prolific and varied her career has been. The article emphasized this by saying you would only need three or four degrees in her case, not six. (“The Age of Laura Linney,” by Frank Bruni, New York Times Magazine, 7/28/10)
Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam was born when I began trying to link the stars of every movie I saw with the inimitable Mr. N. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I could often do it in a lot less than six degrees. Now, I should confess that I’m not very good at either this game or the one with Kevin Bacon. The problem is that I don’t see a lot of movies these days and very few of those I do see are big blockbusters. So, I’m sure most of you will be much better at Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam than I am!
In spite of this handicap, I have concluded that Jeremy’s magic number is two. That such a small number of degrees can connect him to many actors stops being surprising when you consider he’s worked in all three acting media (movies, theater and TV), on both sides of the Atlantic, and in a wide variety of genres—despite having appeared in so many “wing collar” period dramas that the poor man seems to feel are the bane of his existence. Rather, it makes sense that an actor who has often said he looks for different kinds of roles and dreads being typecast would have worked with a great number of people. A close connection to so many of his fellow actors is only to be expected from an actor gifted enough to play both Dean Martin and Sir Thomas More, a devilish hit man as well as an upright gendarme, one of Jane Austen’s most beloved heroes and the borderline-psychotic commander of an American army base, and both a nebbishy hen-pecked husband and a sexy, helicopter- and sailboat-piloting spy. Especially since, as we all well know, the last two contrasting characters are actually in the same movie! *
Some basic rules of Six Degrees of Jeremy Northam (arbitrarily determined by yours truly):
1) Any of JN’s costars in movies, TV shows or the theater are eligible. (The original game uses movies only.)
2) The “target” actor should be roughly a contemporary of JN. (I’ll leave trying to connect JN to stars of yesteryear such as Charles Laughton and Rita Hayworth to the more advanced players.)
3) Neither targets nor “link” actors need still be living.
4) Directors can be used to make connections, but only under dire circumstances. (Using Steven Spielberg as a link feels like cheating somehow.)
5) In keeping with Jeremy’s sensibilities about separating his personal life from his professional life, in 6D of JN only professional relationships are used. You can link Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, for example, only because they have acted together in several films, most recently The Woodsman (2004), and not because they are married. But, if Corin Redgrave never worked with either of his actor sisters, Vanessa and Lynn, or with his daughter, Jemma, then you can’t use their family relationship to connect them. (If that were indeed the case, JN could link him to the other members of his family: he and JN appeared in Enigma together and JN was in a production of Chekov’s The Three Sisters with the three female Redgraves.)
Here’s an example of how a game of 6D of JN goes. I saw a wonderful, quirky little film a few weeks ago called The Maiden Heist (2009). Its stars are Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy. Macy’s easy: he and Jeremy co-starred in Happy, Texas. Freeman took a moment’s thought before I remembered he and Northam were both in Amistad. So, 1 Degree of Jeremy Northam for each of those terrific actors. As for Christopher Walken, he required a bit more pondering. Then I remembered his turn as a crazed remote control salesman in the Adam Sandler movie Click (2005). Kate Beckinsale played Sandler’s wife in that movie, and we know Beckinsale was in The Golden Bowl with Jeremy. Walken to Beckinsale to Northam: 2 degrees. And there you have it!
After successfully linking Jeremy with many of the actors in the movies I watched, I then started thinking up Big Hollywood Names and trying to connect him with them. Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, and George Clooney were the first four off the top of my head. I thought I was picking someone worlds away from Jeremy with Bruce Willis, until I had a “Duh!” moment: Bruce was in The Sixth Sense (1999) with Toni Collette who was in Emma with Jeremy! As for Julia Roberts, I remembered how Duplicity (2009) had disappointed me. I had so wanted the pairing of Roberts and Clive Owen in it to be an electric one. Oh well, at least the film gave me a connection to Jeremy! (Owen and Northam were in Gosford Park together, just in case you’re having a temporary brain freeze.) Jack Nicholson starred in The Bucket List (2007) with Morgan Freeman, and we’ve already seen how Freeman links to Jeremy. George Clooney was in Michael Clayton (2007) with Tilda Swinton, who starred with Jeremy in The Statement. That makes 2 Degrees of Jeremy Northam for each of those four big Hollywood hitters. Pretty impressive, Jer!
Two actors who take three degrees to get to Jeremy: First, Heath Ledger was in Brokeback Mountain (2005) with Anne Hathaway who was in Becoming Jane (2007) with Helen McCrory (she played gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe), who was in a 2004 staging of the Harold Pinter play Old Times with Jeremy. And then there’s Will Smith—this one took me a while! Smith was in a movie called Hancock (2008) with Charlize Theron, who was in The Cider House Rules (1999) with Michael Caine, who of course starred in The Statement with Jeremy.
As I pulled actors’ names from things I read, saw or heard I sometimes made 6D of JN more complicated than it needed to be. I was wending my way towards Harry Connick, Jr through Northam costar Ewan McGregor (Emma) via Renee Zellweger (McGregor and Zellweger were in Miss Potter, 2006), who was in a romantic comedy from last year called New in Town with HC,Jr, when I realized the shorter route was to just go through Sandra Bullock (The Net); she starred in Hope Floats (1998) with HC,Jr.
Sometimes a very small Northam role reaps big rewards. Those scorching seduction scenes with Emma Thompson in Carrington were the source I drew from to connect Jeremy to Queen Latifah (Stranger Than Fiction, 2006), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Junior, 1994), Denzel Washington (Much Ado About Nothing, 1993), and the above-mentioned Laura Linney (Love Actually, 2003). Thompson’s versatility links Jeremy to the wide array of her costars.
Now, if it takes you more than three degrees to get to any actor in the British Isles, you’re just not trying! In fact, with actors from this part of the world there’s often more than one route to get to Jeremy. For instance, Irishman Gabriel Byrne. He was in a film called Dark Obsession in 1990. Douglas Hodge and Judy Parfitt were both in that movie, so you can get to Jeremy through A Fatal Inversion or Dean Spanley. How about Keira Knightley? You can use either Romola Garai, her costar in Atonement (2007), who was in Glorious 39 with Jeremy, or the trusty Emma Thompson again to reach him through Carrington, she and Knightley were in Love Actually together. And Colin Firth, who will likely receive his second consecutive Academy Award nomination come January. Two of my favorite Northam costars have also starred opposite Firth: Jennifer Ehle was in both Possession and the mini-series Pride & Prejudice (1995), and Julianne Moore was in An Ideal Husband and last year’s A Single Man. All roads may have once led to Rome; nowadays they seem to lead to Jeremy Northam.
And Mr. Bacon himself? Easy peasy, folks! Jeremy starred (as we know) in Happy, Texas with William H. Macy, who played a District Attorney in a film called Murder in the First (1995) which starred, ta da!, Kevin Bacon.
I’ll leave you with three to try on your own: link Jeremy to Johnny Depp, Mikhail Barishnikov and Steve Martin. In each case, it should take only two degrees to get you there.
*Just in case there are some Jeremy newbies reading this, here are the characters I referred to and the films they come from, in order: Dean Martin in Martin and Lewis, Sir Thomas More in The Tudors, Jack Devlin in The Net, Col. Roux in The Statement, Mr. Knightley in Emma, Lane Woolwrap in Guy X, and Morgan Sullivan and Sebastian Rooks in Cypher.
I used information from the Wikipedia entries for both Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and the six degrees of separation concept. Both are worth checking out if you’re so inclined:
There’s a site called Cinema FreeNet Movie Connector (http://www.cinfn.com), which will provide links between actors—and also directors and producers if you need them. Just type in your “source” and your “target” and voila! However, there is one huge drawback to this site: it isn’t current. It seems to have been last updated in 2003 and doesn’t list any JN film after The Golden Bowl! That’s a full ten years of Northamness missing! But if you find yourself awake at 3am wondering how to connect Jeremy to someone, you might find your answer there.
Please note that I omitted the dates of Jeremy’s movies and TV programs. It was getting too cumbersome to include them with all the other movie names and dates. Here’s the link to his IMDb listing for any Northam information you haven’t already committed to memory:
Finally, my thanks to Joan for bringing the Laura Linney article to my attention.
Ed. Thanks to Debra, Skippy and Joan for images.